• July 31, 2020

    Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Energy Innovation Dance

One year ago this week, our Global Energy Institute team welcomed hundreds of business, government and academic leaders to the Chamber’s Hall of Flags for our Energy Innovates “ALL IN” Summit. We caffeinated guests at our “Fuel Bar,” engaged them in our legislative and regulatory reform efforts, and heard from leading voices on the incredible innovation taking place across the energy sector.

Today, such in-person gatherings seem like a distant memory thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the hopes for sweeping innovation legislation hang in the balance as we head into the fall election season. Yet, the need for energy innovation is just as pressing today as it was then.

As we look forward to an increasingly uncertain future, the opportunity to invest in an energy future that is cleaner and stronger continues to hold great promise. Our Energy Innovates initiative brought this vision of the future to life. From Alabama to San Diego, and several stops in between, our Energy Innovates tour unearthed some of the most interesting energy projects in the nation—and people behind them. At our summit, we convened innovators like John Hopkins, Chairman and CEO of NuScale; Brian Murray, Director of the Duke University Energy Initiative; Scott Martin, Principal at 8 Rivers Capital and Project Manager for NET Power; and the Honorable Ernest Moniz, President and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative, to highlight their work and share their wisdom on the critical importance of energy innovation to our economy and environment.

One of the standout themes of the summit was the opportunity to address the challenge of climate change through innovation. As Jason Grumet, Founder and President of the Bipartisan Policy Center said, “we have a compelling and somewhat unexpected opportunity to advance a meaningful climate strategy that is anchored in innovation.” This notion was echoed by Susan Dio, Chairman and President of BP America, who spoke of the critical need “to reach outside the norm, the normal partners and think more broadly” in order to develop the technologies needed to solve society’s most pressing issues. Little did we know what would be coming our way in the months to follow.

We entered the fall of 2019 riding heightened momentum. In October, the Chamber led a coalition letter of roughly 30 diverse organizations to urge Senators McConnell and Schumer to place legislation addressing energy and climate technology and innovation on the Senate’s fall legislative calendar. Then, in February 2020, the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA)—a comprehensive, bipartisan package of more than 50 individual bills—was introduced by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee leaders Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin. We brought the full resources of the Chamber to bear in support of this bill, utilizing our Hill, grassroots and media teams. Once again, we brought together our broad coalition to send a letter to the Senate in support of this incredibly important bill and urging a floor vote. We were proud to join groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund in strong support of this legislation—a testament to the careful work of Senators Murkowski and Manchin to cultivate such diverse interests. Unfortunately, when the bill came to the floor in the first week of March, a dispute over an issue peripheral to the bill put its progress on hold.

Despite this step backwards, we remain committed to moving this innovation agenda forward. As U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue stated at the summit, “There's nothing more fundamental to our economy, and every single industry, than energy.” So while the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an unprecedented turn of events and disrupted our modern way of life, the energy industry has continued to keep our homes, businesses and hospitals powered without disruption. 

The list of energy companies that have gone beyond their core services to help meet additional needs is impressive. The innovation and augmentation of supply chains at energy companies to meet the growing demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a good example.

On the legislative front, there is once again reason for optimism. Two components of the Energy Innovation package—the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA) and Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act (USE-IT Act), which will direct investments into advanced nuclear energy and carbon capture technology, respectively—just passed the Senate and we are optimistic they will become law. We remain hopeful that the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), or a related version of it, will find its way back on the Congressional calendar, and will continue our efforts to make that happen.

The American energy industry will push forward and invest in the development of technologies that will shape our energy future, grow our economy and protect our environment.